Danielle Valentine was seven months pregnant with her daughter Harriet when she hatched the idea for Delicate Condition.
The chilling novel, out now, pinpoints the American horror stories many women experience during IVF and complicated pregnancies. Delicate Condition happens to also be the basis for the upcoming 12th season of American Horror Story, subtitled Delicate and starring Emma Roberts and Kim Kardashian.
As she reveals in her author’s note, Valentine experienced a “devastating” miscarriage in 2018, about a year before she and husband Ron began expecting Harriet, who’s now 3½. She wrote that she was “shocked by how difficult miscarriage was, both mentally and physically, not to mention how difficult a perfectly average pregnancy could be.”
Valentine, 39, tells PEOPLE that writing about her own experiences in the form of a thriller helped her reach a catharsis after her pregnancy loss.
“In writing it, I was able to get it out of my head. It really bothered me for, I would say, the year after it happened. It was something I thought about a lot. The moment I put it on paper, it’s gone,” she says. “I cannot tell you how wonderful writing is. For just getting the feelings you have out of your brain and putting them into a safe place like a page.”
Valentine adds, “It’s such a personal experience. I think other people have very specific things they need to do to get through it.”
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One thing she was working through as she wrote Delicate Condition was a sense of “frustration” that stories about miscarriages didn’t capture the full range of emotions.
“There’s this disconnect between we know something is so common and nobody is really talking about just how difficult it is — how painful, how emotionally difficult,” she says, later adding, “I wasn’t hearing women say they were angry, that they were confused, that they were frustrated, that they were guilty. It was always this common script of ‘I’m so devastated.’ I know from talking to other women who’ve been through this that these other emotions exist.”
“The anger was the strongest thing for me in dealing with it,” says Valentine. “I think it was important for me to write that and to work through it.”
In Delicate Condition, 39-year-old actress Anna Alcott admits she’ll do anything to become a mom, including undergoing multiple rounds of painful IVF and, hypothetically, making a deal with the devil if it would bring her a baby.
When she becomes pregnant, she suffers a miscarriage, but in the aftermath of the traumatic experience, Anna suspects she’s still pregnant, even as her husband and doctors continue not to believe her.
The story ventures into supernatural territory, but it’s the horrors based in reality that leave the most impact. The harrowing miscarriage scene was “pulled back quite a bit” from previous drafts, which at one point had the sequence elaborated across 40 pages, Valentine says.
Valentine recalls the confusion she felt when it happened to her.
“It was probably a good 24 hours before we even finally went to the ER. And even when I went to the ER, I’m like, ‘I know this isn’t a miscarriage.’ I felt silly. I felt like they were going to send me home. Then, gradually as I was there for hours, it became less silly and it became more obvious something really traumatic was happening.”
“It seems like it’s shrouded in so much unnecessary mystery. Even after I had it, there was a lot of talks with my doctors about, ‘Oh, well, you don’t have to tell anybody,’ like I should feel shame about the fact that I’ve been through this. Why should I feel shame about it? I didn’t do anything wrong. But, of course, there is still so much shame surrounding it.”
Valentine’s goal is for her readers to relate to Delicate Condition and its themes while being entertained through the horror lens.
“I wrote it because it was the book I wish I’d had after I’d been through that. I’m a horror fan and I wanted something scary and gruesome so the things I was dealing with didn’t feel so alien,” she says. “So I wrote it for myself.”
As for the American Horror Story adaptation coming soon, even Valentine is in the dark about the “secretive” season. The series is no stranger to pregnancy scares (see Connie Britton giving birth to a half-ghost baby in the 2011 first season, etc.) and the author can’t wait to see how the book translates to limited-series form.
“Film, television, onscreen adaptations — they’re their own thing. They’re their own art. I made the book and the book was exactly what I wanted it to be, and now it’s going out in the world and the readers are going to interpret it however they want it to be.”
“It’s thrilling to be able to see how one reader is interpreting it, seeing it through their eyes. I feel really lucky I get to see that,” she adds. “Honestly, whatever they choose to do, I am very excited to see it.”
Delicate Condition is out now wherever books are sold. A release date for American Horror Story: Delicate has not yet been revealed.